Sick on the road – How do you cope?

by Chris on October 15, 2010

Cough. Sneeze. Sniffle. Repeat. When you get a cold on the road, how does a traveler cope?

Cough. Sneeze. Sniffle. Repeat.

That’s been my routine the past few days, as I struggle to tour Berlin through a nasty cold that I picked up at the SATW conference in Saxony (too many handshakes and late nights).

I hate getting sick on the road, and I feel like Typhoid Mary. My husband squirts Purell on his hands every five minutes and my nose is so red and chafed that strangers look at me in concern.

Still, I’m a trooper. I’ve never been to Berlin before so the last thing I want to do is hole myself up in a hotel room. I want to see as much of the city as I can, without keeling over.

So far I’ve been coping primarily by pacing myself. There’s a million things to do and see in Berlin, and I have to keep telling myself that I couldn’t see them all in four days, even if I was healthy. So I might miss some of the historic delights on Museum Island. That doesn’t mean I can’t take in their beauty during the Festival of Lights show that’s going on now.

I’ve also taken naps in the afternoon, downed fruit juice whenever possible and stayed away from alcohol (tough to do in Germany, when you know you’re missing out on fantastic beer). I’m trying to build my sightseeing itinerary by picking out places that matter most to me, instead of following the usual Top 10 list.

And of course, I’ve raided local pharmacies for cold medication, cough syrup and lozenges (a runny nose seems to transcend the language barrier).

I take heart in knowing that no cold lasts forever. I just hope this one goes away before I get on the plane Sunday for my 9 hour flight back home. Because just about the only thing worse than being sick while sightseeing is being sick on a plane.

What are some of the ways that you cope with illness when traveling? I’d love to hear your hints.

| Chris Gray Faust is a veteran journalist, travel expert, social media butterfly - and editrix of this site. Like what you read? Check out her writing, editing and social media services.

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

kat October 15, 2010 at 9:12 am

Just make sure to fluff yourself up before getting on the plane. In the wake of SARS I’ve actually been behind passengers that were not allowed to board as they made the mistake of hacking in front of the ticket agent. Take decongestant, give the ticket agent a big fake smile, and wait until you are in the air to let your sick flag fly. In fairness to others, once on the plane, make sure you keep up the Purell and sniff into your kleenex to contain your germs. Hope you feel better before you fly and use this as an excuse to go to Berlin again!


Kelsi October 15, 2010 at 10:56 am

Garlic. Good luck to those around you. 😉 I like to carry garlic pills with me and if I feel like I’m getting sick I’ll take one and I usually start to feel better. If I don’t have the pills then I try to eat garlicy foods. Also carrying around a water bottle to remind myself to drink up doesn’t hurt either. Hope you feel better soon.


Chris October 16, 2010 at 9:17 am

Thanks for the advice. It’s the last day of my trip and I’m still hacking. Blech. Still managed to see quite a bit, though.


Margaret Piton October 16, 2010 at 1:02 pm

I too got sick as a dog in Berlin a while back, at Christmas time, so I sympathize. When I learned everything would be closed in Berlin for four days, I bought a ticket to Newark. Stayed in a hotel overnight (got the last room,)then took the bus back to Montreal. I was even sicker when I got back, but at least I was home.
Glad to hear the SATW convention went well–I’m a former member.


Gray October 20, 2010 at 9:43 am

I supplement every day so I don’t get sick very often, but when I do, it tends not to last as long as it used to. So I just get plenty of sleep, drink lots of fluids, use tons of Purel, and take some cold meds to mask the symptoms. Pacing yourself is super important. If I’m home, I baby myself and stay away from work. I think making sure you don’t spread it to the people around you is really important. But if I’m traveling on that one week of vacation I’ve been planning for so long, I’m not going to squander the experience by staying in my hotel room.


Chris October 23, 2010 at 5:52 pm

Gray – You know, I’m going to have to start taking supplements. I find that as I get older, I get sick more often. And I”m like you, I don’t want to waste time on the road by staying in the hotel! (although some of the hotel rooms that we had in Berlin were quite lovely).


Tom Adkinson October 21, 2010 at 3:22 pm

In my version of “Berlin with a Cold,” I played you, and my wife played your husband. I pressed on and was glad I did. What a wonderful city — even in the rain and even if I was ailing — and the Festival of Lights was a delight. The home remedy I tried was currywurst and beer. It didn’t seem to help, but it didn’t hurt, either. Cheers.


Chris October 23, 2010 at 5:50 pm

Tom – I’m definitely glad that we kept with things, as Berlin is a fascinating city (I did avoid the beer, though). Nice meeting you in Germany, and thanks for stopping by to comment!


Marilyn Marx October 21, 2010 at 4:20 pm

Hope you’re totally recovered by now but beware of flying with a cold! Last time I did I ruined my ears and have had a problem with pain and pressure almost every time — but discovered recently that a combo of Claritin prior to flight and Nasonex and gum just prior to descent has worked for me so far. Now my major concern is bringing home bedbugs. The precautions taken are worse than having a cold!


Chris October 23, 2010 at 5:49 pm

Marilyn – I’m on the last vestiges. I had the same problems with my ears that you’re talking about – they didn’t feel right for several days after my flight! I’ll have to try Nasonex next time. Great to see you in Germany!


Tandem World October 25, 2010 at 11:53 am

Sorry to hear you were sick, Chris. It’s no fun to travel that way.

When we travel, we are actually more likely to see a doctor if one of us gets sick. We have great (and pretty inexpensive!) travel insurance that takes far better care of us than our “regular” insurance does. Imagine that.

I think this attitude came after I was off-the-charts sick in Chile and decided to “tough it out” instead of going to the doctor. After that, we decided never again.


William K Wallace October 26, 2010 at 6:37 pm

I personally find myself getting less colds and illnesses as a I get older. I just eat plenty of fruit and veg and drink loads of water. I can’t remember the last time I had a bad cold or any illness.

And you right about the fact you are only there for 4 days you were never going experience much during such a short trip no matter how much you rushed around! And I think the beer would have helped with the cold, I couldn’t imagine visiting anywhere in Germany and not drinking loads of the stuff…


Judy Wells October 28, 2010 at 1:03 pm


What did they do to us in Dresden and Leipzig? I blew my nose and chomped throat lozenges through Berlin too.

You’re right; pacing is the key although I only resorted to it on the last day. An SAT colleague’s friend, a journalist from Berlin, took us on whirlwind tours of what most visitors don’t see – nightlife among the young creative types, a hike through a typical neighborhood, the dome above the Reichstag, a gallery opening and two very late nights. We scrambled to hit Checkpoint Charlie and two museums on Museum Island on our own.

The last day – after a 3-3:30 a.m. return to the hotel – I set out to finish one and see a third museum but stopped first at a drugstore to get more lozenges and some extra strength painkiller. Reached the corner, rain blowing into my face, and thought, What kind of fool are you? Returned to the hotel, took two pills and took a nap.

So I missed lots of major stops too. I’ll join you anytime you want to go back and hit them!


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